Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Shaving Down Your Monthly Bills

When I started planning out regular savings, I created a budget and took a hard look at it. A lot of things were fixed monthly expenses, and (as luck would have it) they all seemed to go up a few bucks more due to yearly increases right after I had written my budget down. It was disheartening! So I started taking a look to see if there was anything that could be done about them

The first bill I tackled was our cell phone plans. I had the (pretty good, actually) 450 minute Any Mobile, Anytime plan with Sprint for $69.99. I had already downgraded from my $99.99 Simply Everything plan and it had worked out great. We don't have a land line at home, and neither do most of my friends. Even when I'm calling my parents, it's typically easier to get hold of them if I call one of their cell phones. This plan had unlimited minutes when calling any cell phone, as well as an unlimited web and text package. It was perfect for me.

But I digress. It wasn't a family plan with my husband. Meanwhile, the hubby was paying $79.99 for a 1500 minute plan with T-Mobile, but really using a lot less than 1500 - especially when you took into account the number of minutes we were wasting on phone calls to each other when those minutes would be unlimited if we were on the same plan. My other big phone friend is my mother - also on T-Mobile, meaning I'd hardly use any minutes at all if we were all with the same network. I knew we were missing out on some savings, meager though they might be, by not combining.

When the iPhone 4 came out, my very generous co-worker gave me his old iPhone. I patiently awaited this knowing that it didn't make sense for me to switch phone carriers if I had to buy a brand new phone that I really didn't need (my beloved BlackBerry was working fine). My husband dutifully unlocked the iPhone for me, and I got set up with T-Mobile. Having carefully monitored our minute usage over a few months, I decided to stay with a 1500 minute plan even though we were sharing. We have unlimited text and data for $119.99 a month. Unfortunately, I see now that they've bumped that price point down to 200 MB of data - unlimited is $40 more! We're lucky we got in when we did. It's worked out to $30/month savings for us.

I also took a look at our Comcast Cable bill. I loathe this bill. (Isn't cable TV an unalienable right? No? Oh.) I guess the real reason that I loathe it is that they are constantly telling me - via friendly salesman knocks on the door while I'm in the middle of cooking dinner) that if I get cable, internet AND phone I could be saving money over my plan now. And it isn't true! Sure, the base rate is cheaper than the chunk of change automatically charged to my card every month, but that's because it includes tax! Marketing campaigns like this really get under my skin.

Unfortunately my husband has this really cool media computer that we have hooked up to a projection screen that was rendered useless after the switch to digital. We needed another box. I finally acquiesced. He had traded hard labor for both the computer and the projector and screen, and it seemed kind of cruel to deny him the necessary equipment to keep it running. Unfortunately, I was feeling kind of crabby about it and made him make the phone call to Comcast, who talked him into changing our plan over to the Better! More Channels! Phone! Inexplicably Cheaper! but not actually cheaper plan. When I got the first bill I immediately called and switched back.

In a twist of fate (Comcast Karma, perhaps?) the 3 month discount they gave us on our boxes with the new plan stuck around when I switched to our old plan. Then, after three months past the discounts came off and our yearly billing bump hit at the same time. I frowned at the bill angrily. I realized we were paying $7 a month to rent a modem. This wasn't exactly news, but it was the first time I considered how stupid this was. A quick search of the internetz lead me to a list of compatible modems, one of which I found on eBay for $30 with free shipping. The phone call to Comcast to set it up was one of the easiest dealings I've ever had with them. In another twist of fate, the cable box attached to the media computer inexplicably stopped working. I returned our old modem and the box and knocked $15 off my bill (and gained a hard cell at the Comcast return offices from a salesman who was concerned about me "downgrading" my services). Had I not been returning the modem, I probably would have put off returning the useless box for months, losing $8 every month. The hassle of one afternoon in line saved me $180 a year (minus the initial $30 investment).

What bills can you take a look at and tackle? Are you paying for more mobile time than you need, or a land line that you never use? Are you over-insured, or paying for a gym membership you don't use? We also cut down and then cut out our never used Netflix account, and I bumped up my health insurance deductible. It's amazing how those pennies really add up!

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